Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caren Explains the Harbus Case Study

On Monday The Harbus released an HBS-like case study I penned called "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" which explores perceptions and opinions about student leadership at HBS. [I would link to it but The Harbus did not post it online]. The Harbus editor-in-chief has put out a call for reactions/case analysis, so I thought now would be a good time to provide some context to the case, too.

As explained in the footnote, the case is not intended to serve as an "endorsement, source of primary data or illustration of effective or ineffective leadership," but rather inspire conversation within the community around the case. Why? Well, because many similar conversations were already happening behind closed doors -- between both students and administrators. The impact of J-Term, the recession and social traditions were being called into question. I was also hearing complaints from both RCs and ECs about the state of student clubs, but there was no formal place to come together and talk about these concerns.

To form the case study, I solicited feedback from both RC and EC students across 20 interviews, including an EC-RC focus group. The students I interviewed included current and incoming club officers and SA presidents, student committee members and apathetic MBAs alike. I also compiled as much historic data as I could get my hands on about the demographics of the HBS community, which was harder than I thought it would be (thanks, WayBack Machine).

I very purposefully wrote this as a case study, not an editorial, for two reasons. First, because coming out with an editorial and saying "Ah-ha! I know what's going on!" would be both counterproductive and nearly impossible, especially because I'm not even sure this is a real problem. Second, as you see within the case, there are too many variables to prove definitive causation or correlation, especially across the more qualitative data. We can't even agree on what "leadership" means. Still, I think it an important issue to think about.

As one of my classmates said, MBAs are very good at "planting a stake in the ground and defending it." Think about how many different opinions are shared over the course of a case discussion in Aldrich Hall... if we all had the same viewpoints or opinions, we wouldn't learn anything. Just as with any case we study in the classroom, The Harbus staff and I hoped this "case" would cause you to think about and defend your own opinions.

It would not be an appropriate case discussion without true case analysis, though, so I would encourage ECs, RCs and faculty to share opinions by filling out this (secure and anonymous) poll to The Harbus Editor or simply having conversations with classmates.

What does "leadership" mean at HBS? I'm not sure... but this is how I choose to be a leader, and I hope the case study helps people think about what it means to them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, on Innovation, Internet and Entrepreneurship

There are no Managing Innovation (#HBSinnov8) or Founder's Dilemma (#fdhbs) classes the rest of the week, so I thought it a good time to type up my notes from SXSW Interactive. One of the more notable events of the week was the keynote address from Evan Williams, co-founder and CEO of Twitter (and recent HBS case protagonist in #fdhbs). As you may have heard, it was a bit lackluster and I would now say this tweet was indeed serendipitous...

(click the link above to see the picture)

When Williams announced Twitter's new @anywhere platform from the stage (to applause, but not cheers) it was clear that he is no Steve Jobs... but I stayed until the end of the Q&A and found his insight and reflections interesting nonetheless... here are the [paraphrased] pieces that stood out.

"Whatever you assume when you start out, you are wrong. Experimentation leads the creative process... Google started out thinking they were going to sell search products."

"We are still focused on how do we create the best experience for users and business... users are opting in to commercial messages all the time. We want to make that process better and faster."

"'What is Twitter?' has always been an iconically difficult question to answer. We think of it as an information network that helps [users] find out what is going on in the world around them, and share... First piece, you don't have to contribute... Value we are working on today is increasing signal to noise ratio and giving people more choices."

How does Twitter handle iteration? "We have awesome people that are doing what they think is best. Autonomous teams... go for it... give them the resources they need."

On his role as CEO: "I personally like to get involved in the product and strategy. Then the nitty gritty... half my time on that, then half of culture internally. How do we scale the company and adopt characteristics we want? ... Parallels between service and culture we want to create... openness and transparency... easy to say, harder to do..."

Re: Openness and transparency... "A window is transparent, a door is open... a window lets you see what is happening, a door lets you come in... openness is survival technique... being open to your probably being wrong... assume there are more smart people outside the company than inside..."

"There are 50 million tweets a day; most users see 100. Are those the best 100 for you to see? Probably not." Hinted at Microsoft and Google being able to help that within the network.

"We don't know the best use for this stuff... like the Internet... why limit it?... We are just realizing the value of the Internet. It is about democratization... we take that for granted. It is changing institutions today, it will changes institutions in the future."

Next wave? "Real businesses will be built on Twitter.... 'Twitter.com' is the consumer interface for the mainstream audience... we would love to see more focus on creating deep experiences that create value for audiences."

"We are sending cease and desist notices everyday to Twitter-follower-shot-gun-spammers... [we] need shepherding."

"SMS is still important in places where internet adoption is low. Twitter can help... strong growth in India, where it is SMS ubiquitous."

"Hard to define 'user' because you don't have to have an account to use Twitter... there's something on Twitter for everyone, but everyone does not know that."

"People have limited attention. We hope Twitter can better direct your attention."

#1 operating principle? "'Be a course for good'... open exchange of information has positive impact on the world. Another is 'pay attention.'... Our advantage will only work if everyone wins." Key to partnerships and why Evan says they haven't introduced revenue generating parts to Twitter yet...

"Dichotomy in traditional media and usage... it is an ecosystem and they get richer and pieces work together. It doesn't work for those who ignore the new species. For Twitter, it is even more clear to me that Twitter complements existing media."

Why be an entrepreneur? "For me, it's [about] creating things that didn't exist in the world before... your product should be the end of a sentence that starts, 'Wouldn't it be awesome if...?'"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Caren Explains 3 Ways to Improve Your SXSW Music Experience

On Sunday I head to Austin, Texas, for my fourth pilgrimage to SXSW. It will be the first time I'm not producing SXSW-related events (like the one pictured above); instead I'll be checking out the interactive panels and film screenings, before I help introduce The Lighthouse and the Whaler to the rest of the music industry [catch the band's showcase on Wednesday March 17th at 7:30pm at The Tap Room at Six].

Ian Schafer penned a great post for AdAge reminding all of us who are Austin-bound “10 Ways to Not Be a Jerk at SXSW.” Ian’s offers some advice specific to SXSWi, so I thought I’d add three pieces of advice for those people going to the SXSW Music festivities.

1) Don't plan every minute of your day. SXSW used to be about the discovery, but now it is a miracle if you can survive the whole thing. Go ahead and make a schedule using my.sxsw, but do leave some room for exploration. There are probably 50-some-odd bands that the industry is buzzing about, and you may be tempted to go see them all; but do you really want to be the umpteenth blogger to proclaim [over-hyped band] the darling of SXSW? Wouldn’t it be cooler to stumble into something unusually interesting? There is certainly talent among the other 1,000+ artists showcasing at SXSW, so ditch the schedule from time to time and let your ear lead you to something surprising.

2) Don't show off all of your day party laminates. It's nice to feel wanted and well-liked, but you don't have to brag about it, especially if you didn't share your party invitations with your friends and instead horded passes for yourself. Imagine checking-in to Four Square and seeing that a few of your friends are at a pretty happening place; but, wait, why didn’t they invite you to go with them?! Don’t wear your party laminates like merit badges unless you’re willing to answer, “How come I wasn’t invited to that?"

3) Make a point to go to Flatstock. For the past 24 years the best poster artists and designers have shown up at SXSW to display their work. I've outfitted my entire apartment with posters I bought at SXSW 2008 and my house guests love them almost as much as I do. If you are on a budget, I recommend doing some research ahead of time, since some of these posters are pricey. Check out two of my favorites: The Small Stakes (responsible for The National poster below) and Methane Studios (which made the Band of Horses print).